U.S. stocks finished near all-time highs Friday, Treasuries gained and oil closed in on $50 a barrel even after the world’s biggest economy reported its slowest pace of expansion in three years.
A large portion of those stock gains came this week. Stocks posted sharp rallies on Monday and Tuesday as corporate earnings season continued to reveal strong performances from some of the top companies in the world.
Also of note was the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment cost index, which climbed 8 percent in the first quarter, its largest gain since 2007 and a sign that wage growth is accelerating. This builds on data from Europe showing higher than expected price growth in April.
Overall, a soft report on U.S. Q1 GDP, but this number fits in with the seasonal pattern that has been common over the past few years, where Q1 has tended to be weak.
Markets continue to digest other concerns as President Donald Trump fights an uncertain legislative battle to make his promises a reality while tackling the North Korea issue. The administration’s tax-cut plan (which some believe the U.S. can afford) and mixed signals on its view of Nafta stirred markets this week leaving investors unsure of his position on either.
As for the growth slowdown, investors will now question the Federal Reserve’s resolve to raise interest rates two more times this year.
What we are seeing is a market that is taking sides when it comes to the direction of the U.S. economy. In the green corner are stocks. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is just 0.2 percent away from a record high reached in March on bets that Donald Trump’s administration will push through tax-code changes to spark growth. In the red corner sit U.S. government bonds, where benchmark 10-year Treasury yields have unwound almost half of their post-election increase, suggesting a far more pessimistic view the economy.
We still maintain that this earnings cycle is doing a good job of justifying these valuations despite the fact that economists such as Robert Shiller and other pundits view current valuations as dangerously high.
Of note is economist Jeremy Siegal’s criticism that Shiller's "valuation statement takes no account of returns elsewhere in the asset markets, it takes no account of where interest rates are, where real estate are, where anything else is; it says there's one right price for equities, and the average from 1871 through, let's say, 2000 should be that average."
“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.” -Joseph Heller, Catch 22
The above quote goes a long way to describe the current state of the Canadian economy.
Canada’s economy unexpectedly stalled in February as manufacturing and production in other goods producing sectors shrank during the month. The real estate sector, which expanded 0.5 percent, had its best one-month gain since 2015 as housing in Toronto soared.
Canada’s housing sector, particularly in Toronto, has become both the main driver of growth and one of the biggest sources of uncertainty amid concern the gains aren’t sustainable.
To assuage angry voters struggling with unaffordability, the Federal and provincial governments have taken action to slow down the overheated housing markets around Toronto and Vancouver, but they may want to be careful not to overdo it.
That’s because the housing boom was pretty much the only thing holding up Canada’s economy in February.
Virtually all of the strength in February’s numbers comes from industries related to the housing boom — construction, finance and insurance, and real estate. Had it not been for strength in those areas, the economy would have shrunk in February.
This isn’t new. Many economists have raised the alarm about Canada’s increasing dependence on housing for its economic growth. Global banking consultancy Macquarie found last fall found that Canada’s reliance on real estate investment hit a record high last year — the same thing that happened in the U.S. shortly before its housing bubble burst.
It should not come as a surprise that Fitch, a leading U.S. Ratings agency just came out saying that the province’s 16-point plan to create affordability in the Greater Golden Horseshoe — an area home to nine million people and that wraps around the GTA in the southern end of the province — may derail the market.
This Catch 22 situation is becoming more and more common at the national level in our increasingly complex world. Governments are expected to deliver all the benefits people want at no cost. In other words the electorate believes in the “free lunch”. The reality is that there is little a country can do in terms of policy actions to improve its situation that a) doesn’t have negative ramifications and b) will enhance the long-run outlook in the absence of fundamental improvement in economic efficiency.
Perhaps Canada and more specifically those who have disproportionately hung their hat on one asset class/one industry (blowups like Home Capital often occur at market peaks) will learn that there is simply no such thing as a “free lunch”
Logos LP 2017 Best Picks Update
Huntington Ingalls Industries (NYSE:HII): 9.07% YTD (ex dividend of 1.09%)
Huntington has only been public since 2012 but the company holds a virtual monopoly on the maintenance of U.S. naval and coast guard ships, giving it very high returns on capital with high growth. With a focus on military spending and a strong moat, we still find HII best in class among the aerospace and defence sector.
Cemex SAB de CV (ADR) (NYSE:CX): 14.82% YTD
This highly cyclical company is entering into a perfect storm of strong growth and a beaten down valuation. With a price to sales of 0.3, PE ratio at around 12 and free cash flow growth north of 87% over the previous year, the company has been growing revenue from high single digits to low double digits over the past 2 years while experiencing strong returns on capital. These returns are no surprise given the increased demand in construction and infrastructure spending. We expect this trend to continue for the next few quarters at least.
AAON (NASDAQ:AAON): 10.89% YTD (ex dividend of 0.64%)
With a 10 year average ROIC near 20% with no debt, Aaon is set to face a record year in addition to the infrastructure and housing tailwinds that are occurring in 2017. The company trades at a premium due to its impressive qualities and can be volatile due to the nature of infrastructure and maintenance for major complexes. With low inflation and steady demand for housing and construction, we expect the company to continue to perform well this year.
Syntel (NASDAQ:SYNT): -11.02% YTD
With tight control by executive management (only a minority float on the exchange) this turnaround story has incurred drastic losses due to repatriation and slowing revenue growth. However, historical ROIC has been at least 22% going back ten previous years and in light of their restructuring in the highly sticky IT outsourcing market, there is an excellent opportunity for a turnaround in a stock trading at very depressed valuations.
Thought of the Week
"The Texan turned out to be good natured, generous, and likeable. In three days no one could stand him.” -Joseph Heller, Catch 22
Articles and Ideas of Interest
- I’ve worked in foreign aid for 50 years-Trump is right to end it, even if his reasons are wrong. Interesting perspective in Quartz from someone who has worked in foreign aid for over fifty years, in over 60 developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Tom asks what if we are not even that sincere about doing good? What if we are in the aid business to make sure our own piece of the pie keeps growing? Should we end the “aid-industrial complex”?
- What is meditation and how is it practiced? Nice overview including graphics for those interested in meditation. What are the styles, postures, objects of concentration, common hindrances and effects of practice?
- The happiness experiment. Quartz launches a project focussed on exploring the concept of happiness and the human obsession with it. How to find it, how to keep it and how to define it. They examine happiness from the perspective of economics, history and evolutionary psychology to understand how our notion of happiness has changed over time.
- An anatomy of “Modern Love”. Emma Pierson and Alex Albright analyzed every “Modern Love” column from The New York Times for a decade and found that the messy process of dating leads to the best stories. Here’s what else they learned.
- The benefits of solitude. Our society rewards social behaviour while ignoring the positive effects of time spent alone. What really happens when we turn too often toward society and away from the salt-smacking air of the seaside or our prickling intuition of unseen movements in a darkening forest? Do we really dismantle parts of our better selves? A growing body of research suggests exactly that.
- America is regressing into a developing nation for most people. A new book by economist Peter Temin finds that the U.S. is no longer one country, but dividing into two separate economic and political worlds. In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Mass incarceration - check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.
Our best wishes for a fulfilling week,